Alex Witt   |  April 13, 2013

Documentary reveals how an unknown American battalion tricked the German Army

MSNBC’s Alex Witt talks with director of the upcoming PBS documentary “The Ghost Army,” Rick Breyer. He reveals how an unknown American battalion tricked the German Army utilizing “sonic” warfare, radio deception, and fake tanks.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a new documentary tells the story of a secret group of hand-picked soldiers you may not have known about from world war ii . the film is called "the ghost army " and it's about american gis who tricked the german army into fighting fake battles. here is a clip where the germans think they found the americans . but what they see isn't what they get.

>> all signs suggest the attack will come here. but the tanks spotted from the air are 93-pound inflatable dummies. the sounds come from loud speakers. the radio transmissions from a script.

>> joining me now, rick barr, the filmmaker behind the upcoming pbs documentary. i love this story.

>> thank you so much.

>> who were these guys?

>> these guys were people who were drafted, a lot of them into the army or enlisted in the army and they were brought together to be in this unit. a lot of them were artists. they needed people who could understand visual deception. they brought together artists, including some who went on to become famous including bill blass , elsworth kelly.

>> that wasn't five or six tanks they would blow up. there was a huge program.

>> they had 1,10 men in this unit. hundreds of inflatable tanks, jeeps, they had radio decision equipment. alex, they would do imperson yation. they would pretend to be another american unit. they would impersonate the generals. head up phony headquarters.

>> and that would go out over the loud speakers.

>> they would do it in towns in case there were towns. you would have an actual phony headquarters some place so it looks like the sixth armored division . it looks like they're really there when they're really 30 miles away .

>> it was not without some of its close calls. let's play a little clip when the americans were setting up getting tanks in place and some frenchmen walked by. watch this. oh. that's not the clip we wanted. i guess tough watch.

>> it's a great story where some frenchmen see four americans lifting up what looks like a 40 ton sherman tank and they can't quite believe what they're seeing, and they say to the guard what's going on? and he looks at them, the american guard, and he says the americans are very strong. that was the answer.

>> something i wonder about is the sonic warfare you talk about because back then the technology to make it sound real, i mean, i always envision sort of that scratching noise and how is it that they made it so authentic that actually soldiers thought they were hearing and eavesdropping?

>> they made their own sound effects records. old records sound scratchy because they're old. new records sound really good. they made great sound effects records and then they would mikts them to a wire. before you had tape recorders , you had wire recorders and they would record it on a wire and play it back that way and it's great fidelity. i have so many stories of people who thought they were hearing the real thing and yet they're hearing these phony tank sounds on speakers that could broadcast 15 miles. so you could hear these things 15 miles away . as you were uncovering all of the details of this and worked so long to put this together, what was the most inspiring thing for you? you think about it and you think i have got to tell this story.

>> well, for me it was the combination that you have this amazing, bizarre, sometimes funny deception mission, but it's combined with the fact that you have all these artists who are also painting and sketching their way across the battlefield and creating a unique vision of world war 2. it was a strange and unusual mixture.

>> it's going to be an extraordinary documentary on pbs. thank